Canadian Pharmacist Punished for Grassroots Naloxone Distribution

    An Ontario regulatory organization for pharmacists is cracking down on a grassroots harm reductionist for his naloxone distribution efforts—even though the organization recognizes the importance of this work in the face of an opioid-involved overdose crisis that claimed 1,473 Ontarioans’ lives in 2018 alone.

    On November 1, the Ontario College of Pharmacists concluded that pharmacist Jason Newman engaged in professional misconduct while liberating naloxone from the four walls of his pharmacy and bringing it directly into the community through his organization, Foundation for the Responsible Administration of Emergency Medicines (FRAEM).

    As a direct consequence of the findings, the College suspended his entitlement to practice for a month, while also requiring his completion of a “Professional, Problem-Based Ethics” course. Additionally, they are requiring Newman to shell out thousands of dollars—$7,500 to be exact—in order to cover the expenses incurred by the College for his prosecution.

    Newman’s organization trains “smaller, remote communities” and “high-risk groups” in proper naloxone administration. According to a summary of the hearing, the College concluded that Newman’s efforts included dispensing the medication “without regard to individual need and/or clinical appropriateness” and failing to properly oversee the activities of non-pharmacists with whom he was associated, among other things—which they consider to be “tarnish[ing] the reputation of the profession.”

    While the College seems to be concerned with respectability, Newman and his colleagues are prioritizing the lives of drug users. “If we did not dispense naloxone in a proactive manner, there would be many Ontarians who would have lost their lives to the crisis this year alone,” Newman told Filter in September. “To us, the ethical obligation to continue our outreach program seems too important to stop our work. Lives are on the line.”

    The College does recognize the importance of naloxone in fighting opioid-involved overdoses, with the disciplinary panel calling it an “important harm reduction strategy for those at risk of an opioid overdose.” But they are pursuing disciplinary measures against Newman because they concluded that  his “conduct minimised the important role that pharmacists play in addressing the opioid epidemic,” according to the summary.

    “While we commend Mr. Newman for his devotion to responding to the impact the opioid crisis has had on our communities, all registrants, regardless of their intentions, must respect their legal and binding obligations when agreeing to an undertaking with the College and to practice according to the standards and guidance that applies to all members of his profession, which was the subject of this discipline hearing,” a College spokesperson told Filter. “As noted by our counsel during the hearing, the College didn’t allege any dishonesty or disgraceful conduct by Mr. Newman, but that he had breached certain guidelines and his undertaking, to which Mr. Newman admitted in the agreed statement of fact.”

    Newman could not be reached for this story.

    Back in September, Josh Mazur, the foundation’s policy and advocacy officer, told Filter that he and FRAEM would still “continue handing out these kits,” regardless of the panel’s ruling.  “The consequences for average Ontarioans far outweigh the risks of passing out naloxone.”

    Photograph of Jason Newman via Delaware Pharmacy’s website.

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